Shelton BOE aim to upgrade 'archaic' bus route system

City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton.

City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — As parents continue complaining about student transportation failings, school and the city-run bus company officials are looking into updating outdated bus route software to improve efficiency and consolidate runs.

Board members, school administrators and Shelton Student Transportation Services personnel met with Tyler Technologies representatives Tuesday about beginning the process of updating the bus management software, which Mayor Mark Lauretti said last week not been upgraded in a decade.

The district has been using Versatrans software to coordinate student transportation management.

“A lot of the complaints we’ve heard from parents, this software upgrade will eliminate most of them,” Board of Education Vice Chair James Orazietti said.

BOE Building, Grounds and Transportation Committee Chair John Fitzgerald, at his committee’s meeting Wednesday, said the district is waiting for an estimate on the software upgrade, which would allow for GPS capabilities for drivers and app options for parents and staff to see bus routes in real time.

Orazietti called the current bus programming provided by his board for routing and scheduling as “archaic.”

“Improved technology could alleviate issues and improve service,” Orazietti said. “However, until self-drive bus technology is prevalent, overcoming 17 absent drivers on a given day will remain a monumental task. ... The enhancement of our system to state of the art is a welcome step in the right direction.”

The city currently has 54 bus runs with 62 drivers and 20 monitors. These numbers include spare drivers and monitors.

Fitzgerald informed the committee members that the bus company regularly advertises for new drivers, pays competitive wages and even offers a signing bonus.

“I am happy that the city of Shelton and the Board of Education are collaboratively working together to address this issue,” Superintendent Ken Saranich said.

Board member Diana Meyer, also a member of the transportation committee, was pleased with the proposed improvements but suggested showing “empathy toward the parents would go a long way.”

Meyer was also pleased with the effort put in by district staff and board members, but was worried that “paid staff is putting in a lot of time assisting the bus company while they have other jobs they should be doing.”

Lauretti, during the March 11 Board of Aldermen meeting, offered the plans for updating routes, all while some parents continue to criticize the bus company for not being able to run all buses, as well as missing stops and other non-performance issues.

“This is not an issue singular to Shelton,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti referred to March 1, when alerts went out that four buses could not run because of a lack of drivers. Lauretti said a total of 17 drivers were unavailable due to illness, but after finding private contractors, the city ran all but two buses.

According to data obtained from the Board of Education, Lauretti said, there were 545 bus runs in February, with only 10 missed. There were 396 runs through March 11, with eight runs missed. The mayor said all were due to COVID, both positive tests and mandatory quarantines as well as regular illness.

“This has nothing to do with resources available to provide the service. ... This has everything to do with the pandemic,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti said updating the software will allow for streamlined routes, which will enhance efficiency.

“I am told there are from 800 to 1,000 students in the system that no longer exist,” Lauretti said, adding that updating the software - the cost of which falls in the BOE budget — will aid drivers and help consolidate routes.

In response to concerns raised by parents and some board members, board Chair Kathy Yolish said the administration will now be tracking data on bus incidents, including missed pickups, non-performance and any other reported infractions against SSTS.

Yolish praised the board’s new transportation committee for its work with Lauretti and STSS Director Ken Nappi in reviewing and analyzing the busing data on a daily basis.

“They will also investigate updating programs that will better benefit our students’ and parents’ needs, safety and location information,” Yolish said.